Donations, more teachers sought for ‘bakwit schools’ for Lumads
“I want to be an engineer to construct a school for Lumads…I want to create something we can call our own so they would stop tagging it as ‘school for the NPA.’ If I become an engineer, I can put a mark on the blueprint, and tell them I built the school for the tribal community. Not for rebels.”
Dwayne Colas is one of the 109 Grade 6 to 12 students who temporarily live and study at the “Bakwit school” which formally opened on Monday at the University of the Philippines-Diliman International Center.
Like his classmates, his eyes was sparkling, his voice had conviction as he sat on the floor of the IC in UP, certain his dream would soon come true.
UP is the first school in Metro Manila which lent its space for some 200 Lumads who evacuated amid the declaration of martial law and the militarization in the CARAGA and Davao region in Mindanao. Most of the Lumad communities have been in UP since June and have stayed in the IC dormitory.
Chancellor Mike Tan, who chairs the Save our Schools Network, supports the Lumad communities and their right to continued education.
Ruis Valle, Save our Schools Network spokesman, said the students will continue normal schooling using Department of Education’s regular curriculum in an alternative setting in Metro Manila.
“Most of the students chose to remain in Manila as they fear of being attacked, bombed or harassed in their previous schools,” he added.
Some other schools like the University of Sto Tomas and Dela La Salle University have already expressed their intentions of catering and opening their doors to the students. Among the lessons to be taught to children are indigenous people education and those on defending their right to self-determination, ancestral lands and education.
The same “alternative” setup has been used in past evacuations such as in UCCP Haran in Davao and in Tandog Sports Complex whose students were affected by attacks in Lumad communities including the Manobos of Agusan del Sur, Mansaka of Compostela Valley and the B’laan of Mt Matutom.
During the flag raising ceremony, the students sang the national anthem with much anticipation and depth probably drawn from their experience in Mindanao.
“We urge you to lend your ears for the Lumad children, Mr President. Please ask them and not your war-mongering military advisers,” Valle, in a statement, said.
Valle cited as threats Duterte’s recent pronouncement of threatening to bomb Lumad schools, and the statement of Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Eduardo Ano who reportedly said in an interview that he will bomb the Lumad schools “so NPA could no longer use the structures.”
Valle said they are seeking for more volunteer teachers who have the heart to teach the students. “The students are just 20 percent of all the Lumad students left in the province. There are more left which have stopped schooling,” one of the teachers said.
Currently, there are at least 22 volunteer teachers who left Mindanao to teach the students who evacuated in Metro Manila.
Colas, the student who dreamt of becoming an engineer, left his mother and sibling to study in Manila “to sacrifice and study” for his family’s future.
Wearing his traditional costume, Teacher Ramil Miguel asked his 30 students about their dreams as if to set an atmosphere of hope and anticipation in the classroom. Most of the students wanted to be teachers; a few wanted to be an agriculturist, while two wanted to be an engineer. Only one wanted to be a doctor.
Miguel, who also hails from Socksargen, was shot and injured during one of the attacks against the Lumads. “I was shot while teaching a class. They want the school operations to stop and the best way to do that is to stop the teacher,” he said.
Another volunteer teacher Arjay Perez, 24, secretary general of the Association of Community Educators, shared the same dedication and passion. “Their tears and cries and their desire to learn move me. Education is the only thing they want, yet they are being deprived of it. I want to help the poorest of the poor,” he said.
As the eldest of 9, and with only P4,000 monthly allowance to spare, the only way to help his siblings from the province is to send them to Manila so he can teach them himself.
The teachers — some are fresh graduates, some have experience of four years at most — sacrificed the minimum P20,000 which they could get as regular teacher. Instead, they get only P4,000 allowance seeing the greater and most pressing need.
“I can feel that my vocation is really in helping the most vulnerable. Teaching is a profession and I can feel I’m living out my calling by helping the Lumads,” Perez said.
Other donations needed are blankets, food, school supplies and more clothes as most of the students had at least two pairs of clothing when they left their hometown.
The classrooms had no electric fans, chairs and tables, too. The students wore no class uniforms and had no complete reference books.
In one of the classes, teachers use manila paper posted on the wall as improvised blackboard. The walls are empty, save for some streamers and posters about martial law. Hanging outside their classroom are recently washed laundry.
The food they eat are all from non-government organizations such as the SOS and other private and church organizations from the province. Orientation includes a lecture and briefing on the status of Mindanao.
Unlike the majority of the students who are motivated despite the lack, John remains silent beside his mother Babelyn Sanong who monitors him in the classroom.
“John,” 11, remains traumatized after witnessing how his father, Pastor Kama — a pastor of the Association of the Dulangan Manobo Evangelical Church — was dragged by soldiers from their house in Sultan Kudarat. Pastor Kama is still in jail for illegal possession of firearms. The evidence against the pastor was planted, Sanong claimed.
Now, John would rarely speak, and would cling to his mother all the time, conveying his feelings and hatred toward soldiers and the policemen through drawings. His dream was his father’s freedom, Sanong said.
His teacher Luisito Penaloza, an Ilonggo, said they will treat John with a more careful approach. He has attended counseling once and would need more. “We will not force him to catch up with his other classmates. We will take it easy. We will subject him to more counseling,” he added.
“It really breaks my heart seeing the struggle of the students. Back in Mindanao, they have to walk kilometers to be able to go back to school. And they are faced with violence. I hope the government will soon issue a statement to protect the security of the Lumad community. That they will not bomb the schools.”
The SOS is a network of child rights advocates and organizations, which incluide Salinlahi, Children’s Rehabilitation Center (CRC), Gabriela, ACT Teachers, Kalipunan ng mga Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas (Katribu), Karapatan, Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP), and Student Christian Movement of the Philippines (SCMP). JE
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